Uh oh, I’ve fallen behind! Now I’m tasked with remembering, writing, and organizing 3 weeks of my life in an entertaining manner for y’all. I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to write a memoir or autobiography. Luckily life ain’t that busy here so it shouldn’t be too hard, though I have had a couple of exciting weeks!
Life’s good, it’s relaxed here. I’ll admit, I had a relatively relaxed life back in Chicago too… but in the back of my head there was always that little voice telling me I should be doing something more, being more productive or out and about because there’s 1432 things going on. Here, I still get that voice… but when I tell him to shut up, he listens. It helps that everyone* around is relaxed, and there’s not much to do so it’s way easier to avoid FOMO (fear of missing out, my greatest ailment). Sure they still need to work, and stress isn’t completely avoidable anywhere, but life here’s not expensive and I know many a person taking a month or even the winter off from work (granted for many businesses it’s just pointless to stay operating). Generally speaking the difference in overall chill-ness is hugely noticeable
With all my free time I’ve had a chance to read a few books!
I had seen the trailer for this movie, so I knew it was a mystery/thriller of sorts, but that was it. I was pleasantly surprised when I read the book and discovered the unique style in which it was written (alternating perspectives, not always telling the reader the whole truth, etc.) I started this book on a friday and by that Sunday was at that point where the book can’t be put down and all other responsibilities get ignored until the last page has been read. Which it was. I was really satisfied with the book and I’m excited to see how the film compares.
I heard about this book from Rieke, the german student who was in Menorca interning* here for the summer and stayed her last few weeks at my AirBNB, who had borrowed it from Marta and Wayne, a Spanish and Australian (respectively) couple who just moved here this summer and opened a bar/art gallery down by the port. The book is about, as it title implies, a “yankee” (she’s from california actually) in Menorca; it is a memoir of sorts by Lana Johnson, a woman who moved here with her [Spanish] husband and lived to tell the tale. I really enjoyed the book. There was much I could relate to, and more importantly there was lots that she talked about that I now look forward to and/or wouldn’t have heard about before but now am excited to do. It’s a short and light book, and if you enjoy reading my blog and want another [more-experienced] expat perspective on life in Menorca, I recommend giving it a read.
*she interned at a winery, because she goes to wine university. There’s such thing as a wine (and beer) university! How cool is that? She’s studying the business of wine, but you can study its production there too.
I had a 4-day weekend over Halloween, which perfectly overlapped with my friends’ (Kristen and Katie from the good ol’ USA) trip to Paris, so off I went! After returning I waited 3 or 4 days, until I could deposit my paycheck, to take a look at my bank account. Now that I have seen the damage done, and it’s not as bad (or rather not worse) than I expected, I can happily relive and write about this trip without the fear it was my last!
The weather was ideal for 3 of the 3.5 days. The city didn’t seem nearly as crowded [with tourists] as it could be. The crepes were as delicious and ubiquitous as I remembered. The tremendously long line to enter Versailles was down to a 5-min wait after we checked out the gardens. The bar where [after just having one after-dinner drink] I forgot my camera [which I didn’t notice until I was packing to leave for the airport] had held on to my camera and I was able to pick it up and make my flight home. Here are more highlights:
My parents often played the greatest hits of this wonderful genre when I was growing up and I was really excited by the idea when my mom recommended we go to hear some live. Her initial recommendation was Le Lapin Agile, an old cabaret where struggling artists like Picasso used to hang out. Sounds really cool, but upon seeing the €25 entrance fee, and that’s not counting wine, it was outside our budget for the evening. Instead we found another recommended spot on trip advisor, Le Vieux Belleville.
AHHHHHH I couldn’t have dreamed a better evening. We wrapped up a wine/cheese/meat dinner on the Eiffel Tower lawn and arrived just on time to grab one of the last remaining tables in this small restaurant (20-30 capacity max). The musician was an older woman, with more spirit and energy than the 4 of us combined. Before each song she would pass around sheet music so we could sing along, sometimes lingering to explain the theme of the song or some of the lyrics. Then she would walk around the restaurant playing her accordion and singing. Unfortunately while wine makes me more confident speaking other languages, it has no apparent effect on my ability to read french and I struggled greatly trying to sing along, soon giving up on all but the choruses. We stayed for a few hours singing laughing and enjoying, eventually asking for our bill at what we thought was the end of her performance (but we found out was just a break, hence her having more energy than us).
Shakespeare and Co.
In preparation for this trip, I watched an episode from one of Anthony Bordain's series called The Layover. In this episode he has a 48 hour “layover” in Paris. There was plenty of delicious food that I knew I couldn’t afford or find, a few recommendations on landmarks to see and skip, and two things that I wrote down: an ice cream shop, and a bookstore. I didn’t make it to the ice cream shop, but I’m very glad I decided to make it out to the bookstore on my last day. It’s small, cramped, seems arbitrarily organized, and despite a primarily english selection they didn’t have the book I wanted to buy (i’ve been meaning to re-read Devil in The White City) and I loved it. Upstairs they have a large poetry selection… and a library! A “big” (relative to the store) room with floor to ceiling bookcases on all walls filled with a huge selection of books new and old. One of those libraries with character that you can’t help but wishing wasn’t here at this public place, but was just another room in your house you could go to any time you wanted. There were 8 or so various forms of seating scattered around the room, and I plopped myself down in a wooden chair and stayed a while. This was the aforementioned .5 day of not so good weather, all my friends had left the city already, and I was in no rush. It was quiet. In the end, I almost fell asleep. Not a good sign for the book I was reading, helping me decide not to buy it. More info here
I visited Versailles on a previous trip to Paris with my parents. In my memory, the castle was huge and the gardens an afterthought. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The gardens are HUGE, we spent 2-3 hours and only saw a portion, on the other hand 1 hour in the castle was enough. We were also lucky to go on a day when they have the “musical gardens” aka classical music playing throughout, occasionally themed to the fountain sculpture or even better, accompanying a fountain show. If you’re planning a visit, check which days the music is on!
Have to give these guys a shoutout for safekeeping my camera overnight! It’s a nice spot for a drink too. Young crowd, students from the locality as well as some studying abroad. Tried a “cloudy cider” called Old Rosie’s which I really enjoyed!
I had a goal of eating two a day. I succeeded. From your avg €3 street fare to your fancy-pants (and delicious) sit-down €10 crepe, they were all delicious and reason enough on their own to visit.
Kristen and Katie tried this place before I’d arrived to the city and highly recommended it for it’s “crack coffee” so I made my way there on my last afternoon exploring alone. How did they not mention the sweets?! Half of the place is a pastry shop, with a hell of a line, and the other half a really cool looking’ bar. I sat down for a coffee and something with the word hazelnut. It turned out to be a toe-curling taste-bud-overwhelming smooth-but-crunchy layered cake-thing that I’d trade all the Kinder Buenos (my other vice) in the world for. It's called a Millefeuille Praliné. Millefeuille means "thousand leaves" and is also known as Napolean cake. I knew it tasted familiar! If you haven't been blessed with an opportunity to try it, my grandma makes the best Napolean out there. This praline version I tried in paris is definitely the 2nd best. Upon further research, Ladurée is all over Europe and has a few different brands including one for beauty products. Learn more here
I love walking. I love tours. I love walking tours, especially when they are free. Sandeman’s New Europe is a great company that provides free tours (don’t forget to tip though!) in 18 different [mostly european] cities (I’ve used them in Prague previously). They have additional paid tours, tickets for landmarks, etc. and I bet they are great too. I like to take a tour as soon as possible in a new city so as not get a good overview of what I could return to see in more detail, and learn a little of the city’s history to give context to the rest of my trip. We took the tour on Friday afternoon (I arrived thurs night) and were lucky to have a great guide with a lot knowledge and enthusiasm. Here are some of the fun facts i remember:
- Horse statue symbolism. The guide told us that the hoof position of modern equestrian statues is symbolic for how they died. If the horses front two feet are raised, the rider fought and died in battle. If one front foot is raised, the rider fought in battle but did not die there. If all four feet are down, the rider died of natural causes. If one front foot raised and one back foot raised/bent, it means assassinated (as in the case of Henry IV’s statue where he told us about this). Upon further research, this may not actually be true in many cases, but it will be a fun exercise to research every equestrian statue I see and test the theory.
- The Mona Lisa. Why is it famous? Publicity. Before the early 1900’s it hung in some far off corner of a random wing in the Louvre. I always knew there was a reason it was famous, that wasn’t directly related to any artistic or aesthetic quality, but I didn’t know what. Now I know - it was stolen (and eventually found)! And they accused Picasso which just added to the media frenzy, talk about buzzwords. The real thief had worked at the museum and stolen it out of Italian pride (although I’m not sure how patriotic it is to then just go off and sell the stolen art to a dealer instead of trying to have it displayed at an italian museum). Full story here
- Taxes, ugh. Taxation was at 75% starting with Louis XIII. Holy shit. And it stayed the until Louis XVI when the French Revolution happened. That’s 4 generations that put up with that shit, wow.
- The birdcages. Louis XV you dog. That’s all I’ll say here. Read more here
- The Love Bridge and combo locks. We’ve all seen pictures of bridges with locks on them, I assume. Here’s a few facts I learned: 1) This started with a Russian tradition 2) The specific bridge that [was] popular and known as the Love Bridge, only gained this title and popularity from the season finale of Sex in the City 3) French guys dating temporary residents (aka american girls studying abroad looking for their very own parisian love story) will save themselves money and buy a combo lock so that they don’t have to get a new lock for every new girlfriend (or so the tour guide said, probably speaking from experience :p).
- Making it home - Besides running to pick up my camera before my first flight (and not having to resort to any taking of taxis/uber), I was cutting it close on another part of my journey home. My flight was to land at 7:50, and I had to be in class by 9:00. Buses were at 7:55 and 8:25, and it’s just a 10 minute ride from the airport back to home. Well… The plane landed a few minutes early and I got to the bus station right as the 7:55 pulled up. I managed to stop by my new place to take a look (finishing touches were being done while I was gone; it smelled of paint and was beautiful), stop by my old place for coffee and breakfast, and make it to school on time for the 1 hour of work followed by a 4 break until my next one (aka SIESTA TIME).
More paris pictures below! Hover for captions!
(p.s. thank you Katie and Kristen for sharing some of your photos with me!)
I'm not done with this blog post yet (not even close)...
If you come and visit me make sure to bring an umbrella and an empty stomach, cuz i’ve been cooking’ up a storm! Okay a storm is a bit hyperbolic, but I’ve recently prepared a few dishes without the usual “is this safe to eat?” “Is it supposed to take like this?” “Shit, I’ve got to text mom and figure out how to salvage this”. Some of the new things I’ve cooked recently:
- Bean and Chorizo soup - this was my 2nd time making it, but this time out right delicious. Now, next time I can splurge for some quality chorizo (not this €2 non-sense I’ve been eating)
- Pizzzzaaaa - pretty tasty, but I still need a few more tricks here to shove up my sleeve if anyone has any ideas… The store bought bases are tasty but come out soft, borderline not-yet-done, on the bottom while browning on top. The sauce could be thicker, but they don’t have tomato paste here and reducing it down on the stove each time seems like a lot of effort (and if that is my only option, I might as well be spicing it up a bit while i’m there)
- Bouillon (chicken stock/soup) - finally mastered the simple act of not starting with 2x the water needed and then having to reduce for about a year and compensate for flavor with salt.
- Katleti and Hamburgers - My second time making Katleti they turned out much better, ahh the power of seasoning. Hamburgers are sold in patties so that one was quite easy, and done with a group setting. I wanted to bring it up because, once again, I noticed that ground beef here most definitely has a different, sweeter?, taste. I’ve tried researching it and have found no particularly helpful information beyond some obvious non-specific answers on quora. If anyone can help me figure this out, I’d love to know!
- Any sort of snack involving jamon curado and bread. maybe some goat cheese, maybe some avocado. a few drops of olive oil. you really can't go wrong
- Crepes - After my 2-a-day diet in Paris I’ve been fiending for some. Luckily I was able to get the recipe from the creator of the best crepes I’ve ever had - my grandma! Now, mine definitely weren’t as good as hers, but for my first attempt i was pretty impressed
**After reviewing the food photos I was going to post... I decided they might contradict the above delicious descriptions so I will have to follow up once I improve my plating skillz**
I finally got my own pad. 2 bedroom, recently remodeled with new appliances, kitchen, living/dining area, little patio, and for less than 1/2 the price I paid for a tiny room in the US. Perfect location too. The first month it’s all mine and in December I should have a roommate (he’s been a little flakey so I’m not considering it a done deal until he starts moving in) which might make it a little more cramped in here, but hopefully less boring. We don’t have heat, but that’s true for 99% of apartments here, and hopefully indicative of the weather in the winter. I moved in the day I got back from Paris and I love the place. I've already hosted some friends for dinner and am excited to do that more! I'm hoping to do "intercambios" where my spanish friends can practice their english... by teaching me how to cook a spanish dish [in english].
My new apartment came with a mountain bike, so I was able to pass my rented bike onto Max, a fellow language assistant. We took our respective new bikes out for a test drive Friday afternoon to Sa Mesquida, a village on the northern coast that is closer and with a nicer beach then Es Grau (the other place I biked last month).
It was a great choice! The landscape was one of my favorites so far, and we even got to explore an old bunker built into the side of a hill. We also witnessed a guy walk his bike up said hill and ride it down - it looked like so much fun and maybe with a helmet (andknee pads, elbow pads, bulletproof vest) I can try it too some time too. I can’t get over how much I love biking around the island! Here's more pics:
- I turned in all my paperwork for my TIE, including a copy of every [blank] page of passport -_-. The TIE is my residency card, and what I need to stay here legally once the visa in my passport expires (it’s only good for 90 days).
- I got a library card! Well actually, I got a library piece-of-paper with account number on it - since it’s temporary they didn’t give me a real one 😔. After finishing the above two books I came back and grabbed 4 more, including 2 spanish ones (from the kids section :D).
- I opened up a spanish bank account! I had been using my Simple account here because there aren’t any international charges or atm fees, but I learned that in order to deposit international checks I’d have to mail them in… and I’m not a man known for his patience. I’ll go into more detail about my banking experiences another week
- The 1st grade of secondary school (aka 7th grade in US) surprised me with a presentation on Ukraine! They made and presented a powerpoint, and put together this poster too! I don’t know much about Ukraine to be honest so there were definitely a few facts I learned, as well as a few clearly-copy-pasted-from-wikipedia slides that with their edits made little sense, but it’s still an A for effort! On a different day I helped them correct some of the mistakes and I believe it will be up on the school blog sometime soon which I will share with y’all. I’m excited to see their presentation on Chicago too, but shhh… i’m not supposed to know about it :p
- I haven’t had too many instances of utter miscommunication, there’s always a way to rephrase what I’m trying to say or kindly ask whoever I’m speaking with to slow it down and explain. One of the few times that does come to mind occurred when I was playing tennis. I showed up to play in a tournament and was enquiring about the format since I know they sometimes stray from the norm to ensure a speedier tournament / make time for more games. “Doce de cuatro” I’m told by one of the coaches/organizers. “Qué? Cuantos?” Twelve sets of 4 games, that seems odd. 4-game sets (as opposed to the usual 6) seem to be the preference at this tennis club, but 12 sets? That’s crazy talk. “Doce de cuatro” “Que?" this went on for about a minute until it was mutually understood that I would just go and clarify the rules with my opponent. And clarify I did: we were playing DOS SETS de cuatro. Two sets up to 4. DUH. I forgot that because tennis is an english sport, they keep the english terms (for some of the terms).
- The week before that I had another tennis miscommunication regarding whether we were playing with or without advantage at deuce (aka win by 2 at time-game 40-40 or not). On the 2nd set my opponent asked me if I wanted to play with “punto de pro,” the golden point, which for whatever reason I assumed to mean with advantage. I answered in the negative (since we had already played one set advatange-less) and after another confusing conversation at the last point of the game, the best time for a language barrier to be an actual barrier, I finally sussed out that playing with “punto de pro” meant no advantage at deuce. We were playing “normal” which meant with advantage, and I was the one with the disadvantage, but in all fairness I had to admit that I had not meant to play with Ad and my opponent had already won. Sorry if that was confusing for non-tennis players
- Two pro tips for y’all:
1) Don’t wear cashmere sweaters with no undershirt to an indian restaurant.
2) In Spain “spicy” is comparable to “healthy” in American fast food (i.e. it might be printed on the menu but that doesn’t make it any less of a joke)… this does NOT apply to Indian restaurants.
That’s it. I learned the hard way. Chicken Vindaloo + cashmere sweater = me, red-faced, sweating and crying. hey ladies.
- Before settling on my apartment I went to check out a possibly-available room in my friend Max’s apartment. The room was cool, but I had to test myself out with two of his roommates before I could make a decision. I touched them all over, put my face right up to theirs, made sure to let their aura get all up on my personal space. What a shame, I’m allergic to siamese cats. I know I’m allergic to some cats, here’s another breed to add to the no-no list in case you’re considering my health in your pet-purchasing decisions. Just make it easy and get a pup! And wait til I’m back in the US so I could watch it grow up please! (ahem! Lily’s family got a puppy Shibu Ina and Taco will be all grown up by the time I’m home)
I'm Going to Barcelona on Thursday to meet Lily and her parents, and then she’ll be here with me in Menorca for a few days… so expect another novel of a post later this month :)
Bonus pic - Mr. Dank!